Did you start bobbing your head when the video started?
Snap your fingers, maybe? Clap your hands? Tap your feet?
Come to a complete stop when the rapping started?
I did, but not for the reasons you’d think: I stopped out of sheer delight. I thought, how has this never happened before (or if it has, how have I never come across it)? How are two styles on opposite ends of the musical spectrum working so well together?
MOVITS! hail from Sweden (as though you couldn’t tell from the video), where they’ve recently made their mark with their innovative style. Combining elements of big band swing, jazz and layering hip-hop vocals over it, they’ve come up with something refreshing in a landscape oversaturated with thumping techno beats, teen starlets and emotional manboys with shaggy hair.
Their debut album Äppelknyckarjazz opens with a swing track reminiscent of every upbeat big band track of the thirties and forties you can think of. Even as the second song’s beats leans more toward the hip-hop end of the spectrum, it all blends seamlessly as the album goes on.
A-kasseblues is a highlight, where the tempo is slowed down and a bluesy trumpet is accompanied by guitar for a great jazzy track to sway to, and even here the hip-hop lyricizing works. Epistel No.1 is rather strange, leaning toward gypsy-folk in the violin, but the tracks Tom Jones and Äppelknyckarjazz bring it right back around to big band swing. The stand out of the album, however, is 2 Dollar på fickan, which features a guest vocalist with a great husky voice that grounds the album, giving it enough variation to keep the last quarter of the album from being boring.
Strangely, it all works.
When thinking of hip-hop, artists such as Jay-Z, Dr. Dre, T.I. and Eminem come to mind. These are men whose successes are built on their hard pasts, in a genre all about being bigger and richer and more gangsta than your competition. It’s all about what you say. When it comes to big band and swing, simpler times come to mind; where music was made for the sake of it, where you one-upped your fellow trumpeter or cellist or pianist because you could, because the music could.
MOVITS! is the perfect marriage of the two worlds, though the appeal for me is that I don’t understand a single word of Swedish, and thus don’t care about the actual lyrics. They could be rapping about apples, women in g-strings or the day they spent watching TV in bed for eight hours (though I did decipher lyrics about James Dean, James Brown and Motown), I could care less. That they keep Swedish lyrics almost gives them an edge (as if they needed one) in the English music world, and takes away the one thing about hip-hop critics and reviewers such as myself are too easy to complain about.
What MOVITS! has here is the urgency and aggression of the hip-hop world stripped away, big band swing anchoring it and providing a change sorely needed.